Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve

Philippians 4:5-7 (Thanksgiving Eve)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 24, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this evening is from the Epistle lesson recorded in Philippians 4:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony announced, “To All Ye Pilgrims: Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

In 1779, George Washington issued the First National Thanksgiving Proclamation.  “Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; Whereas, both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness!’  Now therefore, I do recommend next, to be devoted by the people of the states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country.”

It’s striking that both of these proclamations involve a looking back on the past.  Both encourage the hearers to consider what God has already done for them.  In order to give thanks, we have to look back and see what God has accomplished in our lives so that we can express to Him all those things.  A day of national thanksgiving is a time when many families come together especially for that purpose.  In a number of homes tomorrow, folks will pause and tell what they are thankful for—blessings received.

In the Old Testament lesson, Moses commanded the people of Israel to do just this very thing.  “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, . . . Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)  Israel was told to remember what the Lord had done for them during their time in the wilderness, how He took care of them, even though the grumbled and complained; how He led them and protected them all those long years.  Not once did the Lord give up on them as they had done to Him.

We would do well to follow this example of thanksgiving to God, and not just at this time of year.  It’s easy to take the time to give thanks when a whole day is built into our schedules.  Perhaps it’s a bit more of a challenge to do so regularly.  But don’t be anxious!  God’s Word tonight has a built in way that helps us give thanks to the Lord each day, even many times a day.

Our text begins, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Which of you pray?  Pretty much all of us.  Many of us, I imagine, speak to the Lord in prayer several times a day.  I venture a guess that most of our prayer time is spent in making requests or supplications, prayers made on behalf of others and ourselves.  But did you notice how God’s Word says our prayers are offered?  We let our requests be made known to God “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.”  It’s not just prayer and request by itself.  It’s not just thanksgiving by itself.  It is prayer and request with thanksgiving.  They go together like mashed potatoes and gravy, like turkey and stuffing, like whipped cream and pumpkin pie.

Listen to how the Early Church Father, St. Chrysostom, explained it.  “[God] does not wish that a prayer be merely a petition but a thanksgiving for what we have received. . . . How can one make petitions for the future without a thankful acknowledgement of past things?”  Why do we continue to pray to God and ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father?  Because of how God has acted for us in the past!  If, in the past, God totally ignored us, never listened to our prayers, never blessed us with what is best for us, why would we go to Him for anything?  We go to God in prayer precisely because He is the God who has helped us in the past, blessed us with our present, and will be there for us in our future.

We are so thankful for what God has done for us that we tell Him so, and that gives us the reason for approaching His throne of grace with our current requests.  For example, look at the Collect of the Day that we prayed tonight.  It begins by sharing with God our thanks for what He has done in the past.  “Almighty God, Your mercies are new every morning and You graciously provide for all our needs of body and soul.”  That’s what God has done.  New mercies from Him everyday that we have experienced.  The needs of body and soul met in the past.  Because of His faithfulness to us then, in faith, we request now that God would “grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may acknowledge Your goodness, give thanks for Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience all our days.”

When we approach our heavenly Father in prayer, we do so remembering what He has done for us.  And the highlight of what God did for us is saving us from our sins, from death, and from Satan’s tyranny.  We approach God in prayer for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who died and rose for us so that we would have access to the Father by Jesus’ blood.  That’s why we are not anxious when we pray.  That’s why we don’t need to fear being ignored by God.  In faith we see what God has done in our past—He saved us.  He made us His children through the waters of Holy Baptism.  He taught us the Christian faith through His Word.  He gives us His Son’s very body and blood with bread and wine the Sacrament of the Altar.  Purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, God gives us “body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”

The result of God’s gracious favor to us through Jesus Christ is peace—the peace that rises above all understanding, the peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Peace comes from God when we offer our prayers to Him with thanksgiving.  It is the peace that, for the sake of Jesus, our Father hears our prayers and answers them according to His perfect will.  It is the peace that comes from knowing that God is for us so that no one can be against us.  It is the peace of sins forgiven, eternal life granted, and a home with the Lord eternally in His presence.

As we celebrate God’s gifts of body, soul, and spirit this Thanksgiving Day, as we regularly give Him thanks as we pray to Him each day with faith and trust in Jesus, receive with great joy and comfort His peace and love.  Know that as He has been gracious to you in the past, so He will continue to love and bless and keep you in the future.  In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving present your requests to the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.

And may the peace of God which passes all understand, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.


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